7 step Problem solving cycle project report


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7 step Problem solving cycle project report

  1. 1. 1 CHAPTER - 1 Problem solving As a student you are likely to be involved with a wide range of activities on campus, at work, in your home and with your friends. At times during these activities challenges or problems will arise. Often you would resolve these automatically, however sometimes you may experience a significant problem which you find difficult to solve as quickly or as automatically as you may under other circumstances. The aim of this resource is to assist you to develop the skills you need to become an effective problem solver when facing challenging or difficult situations. What is problem solving? Problem solving is a process and skill that you develop over time to be used when needing to solve immediate problems in order to achieve a goal. OR Problem solving is a mental process and is part of the larger problem process that includes problem finding and problem shaping. Considered the most complex of all intellectual functions, problem solving has been defined as higher-order cognitive process that requires the modulation and control of more routine or fundamental skills. Problem solving occurs when an organism or an artificial intelligence system needs to move from a given state to a desired goal state.
  2. 2. 2 A seven-step problem solving cycle There are many different ways to solve a problem, however all ways involve a series of steps. The following is a seven-step problem solving model: Step 1: Identify the problem Firstly you need to identify and name the problem so that you can find an appropriate solution. You may not be clear of what the problem is or feel anxious/confused about what is getting in the way of your goals. Try talking to others, as this may help you identify the problem. Step 2: Explore the problem When you are clear about what the problem is you need to think about from different angles. You can ask yourself questions such as:  How is this problem affecting me?  How is it affecting others?
  3. 3. 3  Who else experiences this problem?  What do they do about it? Seeing the problem in different ways is likely to help you find an effective solution. Step 3: Set goals Once you have thought about the problem from different angles you can identify your goals. What is it that you want to achieve? Sometimes you may become frustrated by a problem and forget to think about what you want to achieve. For example, you might become ill, struggle to complete a number of assignments on time and feel so unmotivated that you let due dates pass.  Improve your health?  Increase your time management skills?  Complete the assignments to the best of your ability?  Finish the assignments as soon as possible? If you decide your goal is to improve your health, that will lead to different solutions to those linked with the goal of completing your assignments as soon as possible. One goal may lead you to a doctor and another may lead you to apply for extensions for your assignments. So working out your goals is a vital part of the problem solving process. Step 4: Look at Alternatives When you have decided what your goal/s is you need to look for possible solutions. The more possible solutions you find the more likely it is that you will be able to discover an effective solution. You can brain-storm for ideas. The purpose of brain-storming is to collect together a long list of possibilities. It does not matter whether the ideas are useful or practical or
  4. 4. 4 manageable: just write down the ideas as they come into your head. Some of the best solutions arise from creative thinking during brain-storming. You can also seek ideas about possible solutions by talking to others. The aim is to collect as many alternative solutions as possible. Step 5: Select a possible solution From the list of possible solutions you can sort out which are most relevant to your situation and which are realistic and manageable. You can do this by predicting the outcomes for possible solutions and also checking with other people what they think the outcomes may be. When you have explored the consequences, you can use this information to identify the solution which is most relevant to you and is likely to have the best outcomes for your situation. Step 6: Implement a possible solution Once you have selected a possible solution you are ready to put it into action. You will need to have energy and motivation to do this because implementing the solution may take some time and effort. You can prepare yourself to implement the solution by planning when and how you will do it, whether you talk with others about it, and what rewards you will give yourself when you have done it. Step 7: Evaluate Just because you have implemented the best possible solution, you may not have automatically solved your problem, so evaluating the effectiveness of your solution is very important. You can ask yourself (and others): How effective was that solution?
  5. 5. 5  Did it achieve what I wanted?  What consequences did it have on my situation? If the solution was successful in helping you solve your problem and reach your goal, then you know that you have effectively solved your problem. If you feel dissatisfied with the result, then you can begin the steps again. When to use problem solving You can problem solve anytime you experience a challenge or have a goal to achieve. You can use the problem solving model to look for solutions to concerns connected with your study or other aspects of your life. You can take the problem solving steps by yourself, with a friend or others. Problem solving with others is often very effective because you have access to a wide variety of viewpoints and potential solutions. The problem solving model is a useful resource for you to utilise in all aspects of your life and when dealing with challenging situations. If you require further assistance, please make an appointment with a counsellor in the Learning and Teaching Unit on your campus.
  6. 6. 6 CHAPTER - 2 Stages of problem solving Effective problem solving usually involves a number of steps: Identification: Detecting and recognising that there is a problem; identifying the nature of the problem; defining the problem. Structuring: A period of observation, careful inspection, fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem. Looking for Possible Solutions: Generating a range of possible courses of action, but with little attempt to evaluate them at this stage. Making a Decision: This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting the best solution for implementation. We have a section on decision making. Implementation: Accepting and carrying out the chosen course of action. Monitoring/Seeking Feedback: Reviewing the outcomes of problem solving over a period of time, including seeking feedback as to the success of the outcomes of the chosen solution. Stage One: Identifying the Problem: Before being able to confront a problem its existence needs to be identified. This might seem an obvious statement but, quite often, problems will have an effect for some time before they are recognised or brought to the attention of individuals who can do anything about them.
  7. 7. 7 In many organisations it is possible to set up formal systems of communication so that problems are reported early on, but of course these don't always work. Once a problem has been identified, its exact nature needs to be determined: what are thegoal and barrier components of the problem? Some of the main elements of the problem can be outlined, and a first attempt at defining the problem should be made. This definition should be clear enough for you to be able to easily explain the nature of the problem to others. GOAL (I want to...) BARRIER (but…) Tell a friend that we find something they do irritating. I don't want to hurt their feelings. Buy a new computer. Not sure which model to get or how much money is reasonable to spend. Set up a new business. Don't know where to start. Looking at the problem in terms of goals and barriers can offer an effective way of defining many problems and splitting bigger problems into more managable sub-problems. Sometimes it will become apparent that what seems to be a single problem, is more accurately a series of sub-problems. For example, in the problem “I have been offered a job that I want, but I don't have the transport to get there and I don't have enough money to buy a car.” “I want to take a job” (main problem)
  8. 8. 8 “But I don't have transport to get there” (sub-problem 1) “And I don't have enough money to buy a car” (sub-problem 2) Useful ways of describing more complex problems will be shown in the following section, 'Structuring the Problem'. During this first stage of problem solving, it is important to get an initial working definition of the problem. Although it may need to be adapted at a later stage, a good working definition makes it possible to describe the problem to others who may become involved in the problem solving process. For example: Problem Working Definition “I want to take a job, but I don’t have the transport to get there and I don’t have enough money to buy a car.” “I want to take this job.” Stage Two: Structuring the Problem This second stage involves gaining a deeper understanding of the problem. Firstly, facts need to be checked. Problem Checking Facts “I want to take a job, but I don’t have the transport to get there and I don’t have enough money to buy a car.” “Do I really want a job?” “Do I really have no access to transport?” “Can I really not afford to buy a car?”
  9. 9. 9 The questions have to be asked, is the stated goal the real goal? Are the barriers actual barriers and what other barriers are there? In this example, the problem at first seems to be: Goal Barrier 1 Barrier 2 Take the job No transport No money This is also the time to look at the relationships between the key elements of the problem. For example, in the 'Job-Transport-Money' problem, there are strong connections between all the elements. By looking at all the relationships between the key elements, it appears that the problem is more about how to achieve any one of three things, i.e. job, transport or money, because solving one of these sub-problems will, in turn, solve the others. This example shows how useful it is to have a representation of a problem. Problems can be represented in the following ways:  Visually: using pictures, models or diagrams.  Verbally: describing the problem in words.  Visual and verbal representations include:  Chain diagrams  Flow charts  Tree diagrams  Lists
  10. 10. 10 Chain Diagrams: These are powerful ways of representing problems using a combination of diagrams and words. The elements of the problem are set out in words, usually placed in boxes, and positioned in different places on a sheet of paper, using lines to represent the relationship between them. Diagram 1 using the job/transport/money problem is a simple example of such a diagram. Chain Diagrams are the simplest type, where all the elements are presented in an ordered list, each element being connected only with the elements immediately before and after it. Chain diagrams usually represent a sequence of events needed for a solution. The job-transport-money example could be shown as follows: GET MONEY GET TRANSPORT TAKE JOB Flow Charts, by comparison, allow for inclusion of branches, folds, loops, decision points and many other relationships between the elements. In practice, flow charts can be quite complicated and there are many conventions as to how they are drawn but, generally, simple diagrams are easier to understand and aid in 'seeing' the problem more readily. Tree diagrams and their close relative, the Decision Tree, are ways of representing situations where there are a number of choices or different possible events to be considered. These types of diagram are particularly useful for considering all the possible consequences of solutions.
  11. 11. 11 Rememeber that the aim of a visualisation is to make the problem clearer. Over- complicated diagrams will just confuse and make the problem harder to understand. Lists of the elements of a problem can also help to represent priorities, order and sequences in the problem. Goals can be listed in order of importance and barriers in order of difficulty. Separate lists could be made of related goals or barriers. The barriers could be listed in the order in which they need to be solved, or elements of the problem classified in a number of different ways. There are many possibilities, but the aim is to provide a clearer picture of the problem. Problem ‘ I want to take a job, but I don’t have the transport to get there and I don’t have enough money to buy a car.’ Order in which barriers need to be solved 1. Get money 2. Get car 3. Get job A visual representation and a working definition together makes it far easier to describe a problem to others. Many problems will be far more complex than the example used here.
  12. 12. 12 Stage Three: Possible Solutions Brainstorming Brainstorming is perhaps one of the most commonly used techniques for generating a large number of ideas in a short period of time. Whilst it can be done individually, it is more often practised in groups. Before a brainstorming session begins, the leader or facilitator encourages everyone to contribute as many ideas as possible, no matter how irrelevant or absurd they may seem. There should be lots of large sheets of paper, Post-It notes and/or flip charts available, so that any ideas generated can be written down in such a way that everyone present can see them. The facilitator should explain the purpose of the brainstorming session (outline the problem/s), and emphasise the four rules of brainstorming that must be adhered to:  Absolutely no criticism of suggestion or person is allowed. Positive feedback for any ideas should be encouraged.  The aim is to produce as many ideas as possible.  The aim is to generate a sense of creative momentum. There should be a feeling of excitement in the group with ideas being produced at a rapid pace. All ideas should be encouraged, regardless of how irrelevant, stupid or 'off the mark' they might seem.  Ideas should cross-fertilise each other, in other words everyone should continually look at the suggestions of the rest of the group and see if these spark off any new ideas. Each person is then feeding off the ideas of the others.
  13. 13. 13 Warming-up exercises encourage participants to get in the right frame of mind for creative thinking. The exercises should be fun and exciting, with the facilitator encouraging everyone to think up wild and creative ideas in rapid succession. Possible topics could be: 'What would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?' or 'Design a better mousetrap!' It is better if these warm-up problems are somewhat absurd to start off with to encourage the uncritical, free-flowing creativity needed to confront the later real problem. A time limit of ten minutes is useful for the group to come up with as many ideas as possible, each being written down for all to see. Remember, the aim is to develop an uncritical, creative momentum in the group. The definition of the problem arrived at earlier in the problem solving process should be written up, so that everyone is clearly focused on the problem in hand. Sometimes it may be useful to have more than one definition. As in the warm-up exercises, a time limit is usually set for the group to generate their ideas, each one being written up without comment from the facilitator. It helps to keep them in order so the progression of ideas can be seen later. If the brainstorming session seems productive, it is as well to let it continue until all possible avenues have been explored. However setting a time limit may also instill a sense of urgency and may result in a flurry of new ideas a few minutes before the time runs out. At the end of the session, time is given to reflect on and to discuss the suggestions, perhaps to clarify some of the ideas and then consider how to deal with them. Perhaps further brainstorming sessions may be valuable in order to consider some of the more fruitful ideas.
  14. 14. 14 Divergent and Convergent Thinking Divergent thinking is the process of recalling possible solutions from past experience, or inventing new ones. Thoughts spread out or 'diverge' along a number of paths to a range of possible solutions. It is the process from which many of the following creative problem solving techniques has been designed. Convergent thinking is the subsequent process of narrowing down the possibilities to 'converge' on the most appropriate form of action. The elements necessary for divergent thinking include: Releasing the mind from old patterns of thought and other inhibiting influences. Bringing the elements of a problem into new combinations. Not rejecting any ideas during the creative, problem solving period. Actively practicing, encouraging and rewarding the creation of new ideas. Techniques of Divergent Thinking: Often when people get stuck in trying to find a solution to a problem, it is because they are continually trying to approach it from the same starting point. The same patterns of thinking are continually followed over and over again, with reliance placed on familiar solutions or strategies. If problems can be thought of in different ways - a fresh approach - then previous patterns of thought, biases and cycles may be avoided. : Three techniques of divergent thinking are to: Bring in someone else from a different area.
  15. 15. 15 Question any assumptions being made. Use creative problem solving techniques such as 'brainstorming'. Bring in Someone Else from a Different Area: While it is obviously helpful to involve people who are more knowledgeable about the issues involved in a problem, sometimes non-experts can be equally, or more valuable. This is because they do not know what the 'common solutions' are, and can, therefore, tackle the problem with a more open mind and so help by introducing a fresh perspective. Another advantage of having non-experts on the team is that it forces the 'experts' to explain their reasoning in simple terms. This very act of explanation can often help them to clarify their own thinking and sometimes uncovers inconsistencies and errors in their thinking. Another way of gaining a fresh viewpoint, if the problem is not urgent, is to put it aside for a while and then return to it at a later date and tackle it afresh. It is important not to look at any of your old solutions or ideas during this second look in order to maintain this freshness of perspective. Questioning Assumptions: Sometimes problem solving runs into difficulties because it is based on the wrong assumptions. For example, if a new drop-in clinic for drug users is unsuccessful in attracting clients, has it been questioned whether there are any drug users in the district? Great effort might be spent in attempting to improve the clinic, when questioning this basic assumption might reveal a better, if perhaps unpopular, solution. Listing assumptions is a good starting point. However, this is not as easy as it first appears, for many basic assumptions might not be clearly understood or seem so obvious that they are not questioned. Again, someone totally unconnected with the problem is often able to offer a valuable contribution to this questioning
  16. 16. 16 process, acting as 'devil's advocate', i.e. questioning the most obvious of assumptions. Such questions could include: What has been done in similar circumstances in the past? Why was it done that way? Is it the best/only way? What is the motivation for solving the problem? Are there any influences such as prejudices or emotions involved? Of course, many assumptions that need to be questioned are specific to a particular problem. Following our example from earlier: Problem "I want to take a job, but I don’t have the transport to get there and I don’t have enough money to buy a car." Order in which barriers need to be solved "Do I need to drive to work?" "Do I need money to buy a car?" "Do I want a job?” Stage Four: Making a Decision Once a number of possible solutions have been arrived at, they should be taken forward through the decision making process. Decsion Making is a whole area in itself and you may want to read our Decison Making articles. For example, information on each suggestion needs to be sought,
  17. 17. 17 the risks assessed, each option can be evaluated through a pros and cons analysis and, finally, a decision made on the best possible option. Stage Five: Implementation Making a decision and taking a decision are two different things. Implementation involves:  Being committed to a solution.  Accepting responsibility for the decision.  Identifying who will implement the solution.  Resolving to carry out the chosen solution.  Exploring the best possible means of implementing the solution. Stage Six: Feedback The only way for an individual or group to improve their problem solving, is to look at how they have solved problems in the past. To do this, feedback is needed and, therefore, it is important to keep a record of problem solving, the solutions arrived at and the outcomes. Ways of obtaining feedback include:  Monitoring  Questionnaires  Follow-up phone calls  Asking others who may have been affected by your decsions. It is important to encourage people to be honest when seeking feedback, regardless whether it is positive or negative.
  18. 18. 18 Conclusions to Problem Solving Problems involve seeking to achieve goals and overcoming barriers. Stages of problem solving include identification of the problem, structuring the problem through the use of some forms of representation, and looking for possible solutions often through techniques of divergent thinking. Once possible solutions have been arrived at, one of them will be chosen through the decision making process. The final two stages of problem solving involve implementing your solution and seeking feedback as to the outcome.
  19. 19. 19 CHAPTER - 3 What are Interpersonal Skills? The skills used by a person to properly interact with others. In the business domain, the term generally refers to an employee's ability to get along with others while getting the job done. Interpersonal skills include everything from communication and listening skills to attitude and deportment. Good interpersonal skills are a prerequisite for many positions in an organization. Or Interpersonal skills, sometimes refered to as communication skills, soft skills or people skills, are the life skills we use everyday to communicate and interact with others. A list of interpersonal skills could include: Assertiveness Listening Skills Stress Management Interpersonal Communication Skills Negotiation Problem Solving Decision Making Interpersonal skills are about how we communicate with others, our confidence, our ability to listen and understand. People with strong interpersonal skills are often more successful, both professionally and in their personal lives, as good interpersonal skills allow others to perceive us as more confident and with more charisma, qualities that are often endearing.
  20. 20. 20 You already have interpersonal skills. We all learn how people are likely to react to what we say, how we say it and what we do. How these actions are likely to make them, and us, feel. Those with strong interpersonal skills have learnt to identify which are the best ways of interacting with others in different situations. Interpersonal skills are easily developed, a little time and effort spent working, thinking and practicing your interpersonal skills can pay huge rewards in all aspects of your life. Skills you need There a variety of skills you will need to succeed in different areas of life and SkillsYouNeed has sections covering many of these. However, the foundation for many areas of our lives are good interpersonal skills since these are relevant to ourpersonal relationships, social affairs and professional lives and are the basis on which we can develop other life skills. Unlike specialised and technical skills, interpersonal skills will be used every day and in every area of our lives. Why not start with our articles on interpersonal communication skills: you can use the links to the left or below to find out more about these and other interpersonal skills.
  21. 21. 21 CHAPTER - 4 Interpersonal Communication Skills What are Interpersonal Communication Skills? Interpersonal communication is the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal andnon-verbal messages: it is face-to-face communication. Interpersonal communication is not just about what is actually said - the language used - but how it is said and the non-verbal messages sent such as tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. When two or more people are in the same place and are aware of each other's presence, then communication is taking place, no matter how subtle or unintentional. Without speech, an observer may be using cues of posture, facial expression, and dress to form an impression of the other's role, emotional state, personality and/or intentions. Although no communication may be intended, people receive messages through forms of non-verbal behaviour. Elements Of Interpersonal Communication Much research has been done to try to break down interpersonal communication into a number of elements in order that it can be more easily understood. Commonly these elements include: The Communicators For any communication to occur there must be at least two people involved. It is easy to think about communication involving a sender and a receiver of a message. However, the problem with this way of seeing a relationship is that it presents communication as a one-way process where one person sends the message and the other receives it.
  22. 22. 22 In fact communications are almost always complex, two-way processes, with people sending and receiving messages to and from each other. In other words, communication is an interactive process. The Message Message not only means the speech used or information conveyed, but also the non- verbal messages exchanged such asfacial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and body language. Non-verbal behaviour can convey additional information about the message spoken. In particular, it can reveal more about emotional attitudes which may underlie the content of speech. Noise Noise has a special meaning in communication theory. It refers to anything that distorts the message, so that what is received is different from what is intended by the speaker. Whilst physical 'noise' (for example, background sounds or a low-flying jet plane) can interfere with communication, other factors are considered to be ‘noise’. The use of complicated jargon,inappropriate body language, inattention and cultural differences can be considered 'noise' in the context of interpersonal communication. In other words, any distortions or inconsistencies that occur during an attempt to communicate can be seen as noise. Feedback Feedback consists of messages the receiver returns, which allows the sender to know how accurately the message has been received, as well as the receiver's reaction. The receiver may
  23. 23. 23 also respond to the unintentional message as well as the intentional message. Types of feedback range from direct verbal statements, for example "Say that again, I don't understand", to subtle facial expressions or changes in posture which might indicate to the sender that the receiver feels uncomfortable with the message. Feedback allows the sender to regulate, adapt or repeat the message in order to improve communication. Context All communication is influenced by the context in which it takes place. However, apart from looking at the situational context of where the interaction takes place, for example in a room, office, or perhaps outdoors, the social context also needs to be considered, for example the roles, responsibilities and relative status of the participants. The emotional climate and participants' expectations of the interaction will also affect the communication. Channel The channel refers to the physical means by which the message is transferred from one person to another. In face-to-face context the channels which are used are speech and vision, however the channel is limited to speech alone during a telephone conversation. When you have the opportunity to observe some interpersonal communication, make a mental note of the behaviours used, both verbal and non-verbal. Observe and think about the following factors: Who are the communicators? What messages were exchanged?
  24. 24. 24 What (if any) noise distorts the message? How is feedback given? What is the context of the communication? By observing others you will start to think about how you communicate and be more aware of the messages you send. Uses Of Interpersonal Communication Interpersonal communication can be used to: Giveand collect information. Influence the attitudes and behaviour of others. Form contacts and maintain relationships. Make sense of the world and our experiences in it. Express personal needs and understand the needs of others. Give and receive emotional support. Make decisions and solve problems. Anticipate and predict behaviour. Regulate power.
  25. 25. 25 CHAPTER - 5 Effective problem solving usually involves a number of steps:  Identification: Detecting and recognising that there is a problem; identifying the nature of the problem; defining the problem.  Structuring: A period of observation, careful inspection, fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem.  Looking for Possible Solutions: Generating a range of possible courses of action, but with little attempt to evaluate them at this stage.  Making a Decision: This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting the best solution for implementation. We have a section on decision making.  Implementation: Accepting and carrying out the chosen course of action.  Monitoring/Seeking Feedback: Reviewing the outcomes of problem solving over a period of time, including seeking feedback as to the success of the outcomes of the chosen solution. Effective Problem Solving Tips At a certain point in life, problems appear. In life, there are obstacles along the way which either makes you or breaks you as a person. Having problems is a challenge that is a part of life. Don’t let your problems bring you down. Do a little problem solving thinking. Businesses and companies are prone to having problems in various fields. There may be problems in the bureaucracy system, or the stocks, or customer satisfaction. The list goes on.
  26. 26. 26 That’s why big companies and businesses have committees which do the problem solving thinking. As part of the problem solving team, you should learn to handle problems well. In order to solve the problems, there are particular steps involving problem solving thinking. Define the problem first and foremost. Know what the nature and cause of the problem is. There is no use in pointing fingers and blaming the scapegoat. Blaming should be the last thing that you should do. Analyze the problem and learn of its roots. All those who are the cause of the problem should humbly accept. If you are not part of the problem, you should not scorn those who are at fault. Instead, help form a strategy and solution to the problem. You should be able to evaluate the damage brought about the problem. You should have damage control to avoid ruining the reputation of your business or company. Be sure that you are able to provide an accurate problem description. This might entail a little research since it offers no opportunities of errors. The problem description must be able to display the facts clearly. The problem is confirmed to be officially defined when every team member agrees with the problem statement, and understands the change that will occur when the problem is solved in time. Your team should also agree to work on solving the problem. Establish the facts on the problem accordingly. Make sure that there is a clear understanding of facts involved in the problem. Avoid arguing with your colleagues over the facts. Usually this is where team members may share opinionated views towards the problem. The next step in problem solving thinking is to identify potential solutions. Be prepared to do brainstorming with your team members. Mind maps can also be an essential tool to identify
  27. 27. 27 potential solutions. You should consider the outcome possibilities of every potential solution. Investigate each option thoroughly. Refine the solution that is the best option. Eliminate those options that are not feasible for the group or company. Once you have thoroughly selected a solution, implement it immediately yet carefully, noting any immediate fluctuations in the results which are undesirable for the group. Have an alternate solution ready in case that the chosen solution will not work out. At the end of the process, be ready to review the results of the implemented solutions. Compare data from the past and see if the status of your company has deteriorated or improved in the presence of the problem that was solved. Nine Steps to Effective Business Problem Solving Creating a startup, or managing any business, is all about problem solving. Some people are good at it and some are not – independent of their IQ or their academic credentials (there may even be an inverse relationship here). Yet I’m convinced that problem solving is a learnable trait, rather than just a birthright. Entrepreneurs who are great problem solvers within any business are the best prepared to solve their customers’ needs effectively as well. In fact, every business is about solutions to customer problems – no problems, no business. Problems are an everyday part of every business and personal environment. Thus it behooves all of us work on mastering the discipline of problem solving. Here is a formula from Brian Tracy, in his book “The Power of Self-Discipline” that I believe will help entrepreneurs move up a notch in this category:
  28. 28. 28 1. Take the time to define the problem clearly. Many executives like to jump into solution mode immediately, even before they understand the issue. In some cases, a small problem can become a big one with inappropriate actions. In all cases, real clarity will expedite the path ahead. 2. Pursue alternate paths on “facts of life” and opportunities. Remember, there are some things that you can do nothing about. They’re not problems; they are merely facts of life. Often, what appears to be a problem is actually an opportunity in disguise. 3. Challenge the definition from all angles. Beware of any problem for which there is only one definition. The more ways you can define a problem, the more likely it is that you will find the best solution. For example, “sales are too low” may mean strong competitors, ineffective advertising, or a poor sales process. 4. Iteratively question the cause of the problem. This is all about finding the root cause, rather than treating a symptom. If you don’t get to the root, the problem will likely recur, perhaps with different symptoms. Don’t waste time re-solving the same problem. 5. Identify multiple possible solutions. The more possible solutions you develop, the more likely you will come up with the right one. The quality of the solution seems to be in direct proportion to the quantity of solutions considered in problem solving. 6. Prioritize potential solutions. An acceptable solution, doable now, is usually superior to an excellent solution with higher complexity, longer timeframe, and higher cost. There is a rule that says that every large problem was once a small problem that could have been solved easily at that time.
  29. 29. 29 7. Make a decision. Select a solution, any solution, and then decide on a course of action. The longer you put off deciding on what to do, the higher the cost, and the larger the impact. Your objective should be to deal with 80% of all problems immediately. At the very least, set a specific deadline for making a decision and stick to it. 8. Assign responsibility. Who exactly is going to carry out the solution or the different elements of the solution? Otherwise nothing will happen, and you have no recourse but to implement all solutions yourself. 9. Set a measure for the solution. Otherwise you will have no way of knowing when and whether the problem was solved. Problem solutions in a complex system often have unintended side effects which can be worse than the original problem. People who are good at problem solving are some of the most valuable and respected people in every area. In fact, success if often defined as “the ability to solve problems.” In many cultures, this is called “street smarts,” and it’s valued even more than “book smarts.” The best entrepreneurs have both. Seven Steps for Effective Problem Solving in the Workplace Problem solving and decision making. Ask anyone in the workplace if these activities are part of their day and they'd certainly answer "Yes!" But how many of us have had training in problem solving? We know it's a critical element of our work but do we know how to do it effectively? People tend to do three things when faced with a problem: they get afraid or uncomfortable and wish it would go away; they feel that they have to come up with an answer and it has to be the
  30. 30. 30 right answer; and they look for someone to blame. Being faced with a problem becomes a problem. And that's a problem because, in fact, there are always going to be problems! There are two reasons why we tend to see a problem as a problem: it has to be solved and we're not sure how to find the best solution, and there will probably be conflicts about what the best solution is. Most of us tend to be "conflict-averse". We don't feel comfortable dealing with conflict and we tend to have the feeling that something bad is going to happen. The goal of a good problem-solving process is to make us and our organization more "conflict-friendly" and "conflict-competent". There are two important things to remember about problems and conflicts: they happen all the time and they are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. They are actually providing us with information that we can use to fix what needs fixing and do a better job. Looked at in this way, we can almost begin to welcome problems! (Well, almost.) Because people are born problem solvers, the biggest challenge is to overcome the tendency to immediately come up with a solution. Let me say that again. The most common mistake in problem solving is trying to find a solution right away. That's a mistake because it tries to put the solution at the beginning of the process, when what we need is a solution at the end of the process. Here are seven-steps for an effective problem-solving process. 1. Identify the issues.  Be clear about what the problem is.
  31. 31. 31  Remember that different people might have different views of what the issues are.  Separate the listing of issues from the identification of interests (that's the next step!). 2. Understand everyone's interests.  This is a critical step that is usually missing.  Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution.  The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone's interests.  This is the time for active listening. Put down your differences for awhile and listen to each other with the intention to understand.  Separate the naming of interests from the listing of solutions. 3. List the possible solutions (options)  This is the time to do some brainstorming. There may be lots of room for creativity.  Separate the listing of options from the evaluation of the options. 4. Evaluate the options.  What are the pluses and minuses? Honestly!  Separate the evaluation of options from the selection of options. 5. Select an option or options.  What's the best option, in the balance?  Is there a way to "bundle" a number of options together for a more satisfactory solution?
  32. 32. 32 6. Document the agreement(s).  Don't rely on memory.  Writing it down will help you think through all the details and implications. 7. Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.  Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements about foreseeable future circumstances (If-then!).  How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?  Create opportunities to evaluate the agreements and their implementation. ("Let's try it this way for three months and then look at it.") Effective problem solving does take some time and attention more of the latter than the former. But less time and attention than is required by a problem not well solved. What it really takes is a willingness to slow down. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you'll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good shape. Working through this process is not always a strictly linear exercise. You may have to cycle back to an earlier step. For example, if you're having trouble selecting an option, you may have to go back to thinking about the interests. This process can be used in a large group, between two people, or by one person who is faced with a difficult decision. The more difficult and important the problem, the more helpful and
  33. 33. 33 necessary it is to use a disciplined process. If you're just trying to decide where to go out for lunch, you probably don't need to go through these seven steps! Don't worry if it feels a bit unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. You'll have lots of opportunities to practice! 10 Techniques for Effective Problem Solving How do you solve a problem? There are plenty of solutions out there, but how do you get to them? Being able to solve problems effectively is an important part of living life to the fullest. If we don’t solve our problems, then they simply pile up. After a while this takes a big toll on our happiness, health and overall well-being. It is better to address the issues that come up head- on. Here are several techniques for solving your problems. 1. Acknowledgment Acknowledging a problem removes the naive wish that some fairy will come and whisk away that problem. Just stating that you acknowledge it focuses your attention on it, and immediately sets your mind into coming up with solutions for it. By acknowledging the problem, you are accepting responsibility for coming up with a solution to the difficulty. 2. Make a List of Problems In some instances, there are multiple problems that are troubling you. These problems may need to be separated into individual one sentence statements. This step helps you identify your problems clearly and concisely. Write down everything that is troubling you.
  34. 34. 34 3. Prioritize Your List of Problems Order your list of problems in terms of their impact on your life. This is not the moment to become angry or depressed about the issues that you have. Once you have prioritized your list of problems, you are ready to come up with tactics to solve them. 4. Do Research Learn what you can about the problems that you have. Others have had them, see what some solutions were. Every problem has a list of answers which range from the crazy to the austere. Research is always valuable. 5. Ask for Solutions Look to your trusted friends and family for solutions to your problem. They might have strengths that are perfect for solving the problems that you have. You do not need to have your friends solve your problems for you, you want to know what they would do in your given situation. 6. Brainstorm Once you have received advice from the books and from your friends, sit down with a sheet of paper and speed write solutions for the highest priority problem. You don’t have to worry about whether a solution can be implemented, just write it down on the list. 7. Highlight the Two Best Solutions Take the two best solutions from your list and set up another list for completion. Come up with tactics geared toward the resolution. Make sure that you are realistic about your time frame. 8. Resolve to Overcome the Problem Resolving to overcome the problem is just as crucial as stating the problem itself. This offers a definitive course and affirmation to solve your own problems. You are providing a rudder for your goals.
  35. 35. 35 9. Find the Lesson Within the Problem When you have something firmly in place, you can search for the lesson that is to be learned from the problem that you have. This sometimes opens up a whole new outlook on life. 10. Stay Motivated You might become discouraged with the speed of the solution. That is a sure sign that you need to create tactics which provide every day rewards rather than once a week rewards. Be Stubborn in Your Problem Solving Problem solving can be done in a series of steps which can be undertaken by anyone. The rewards for completing the goal of problem solving are astounding. You are soon able to climb higher on the mountain of personal growth.